last Sunday, after reading a terrific post at Greenbriar Picture Shows, I mentioned in my weekend roundup that I'd love to see Paulette Goddard and Fred MacMurray in STANDING ROOM ONLY. On Wednesday I received a mysterious package in the mail from a very kind blog friend. I was amazed to open it and discover she'd sent me a copy of the movie!
As John McElwee wrote at Greenbriar, this film is a delightful treat. The terrific cast, especially Paulette Goddard, all seem like they're having a ball, and the movie has some moments which are laugh-out-loud funny.
I love Leonard Maltin but agree with McElwee that Maltin's two-star review is way off base; Maltin's at least a star too low. McElwee correctly responds to Maltin's criticism that the film is "dated" by saying, "That's half this movie's charm."
The plot is centered around the wartime housing crisis in Washington, D.C., which also inspired the storylines of THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943) and THE DOUGHGIRLS (1944). In some ways the movie also called to mind one of my favorite Jean Arthur comedies, IF YOU COULD ONLY COOK (1935).
Lee Stevens (MacMurray), a toy company executive from Indiana, can't get a D.C. hotel room, so his ditzy but enterprising new secretary, Jane (Goddard), finds them positions as a cook and butler in the home of befuddled Ira Cromwell (Roland Young). It gives Lee and Jane a roof over their heads while Lee tries to close a big deal, and Mr. Cromwell is so grateful to have hired help -- especially beautiful Jane -- that he gives Lee plenty of time off to conduct business.
Before it's all over, Lee's boss (Edward Arnold) joins him as a butler in the home of Glen Ritchie (Clarence Kolb), the man they hope to do business with. It's all pretty crazy, but it's a stitch from start to finish, with some bright dialogue and funny physical comedy, such as MacMurray's determined pursuit of a strawberry which falls on the table when he's serving dinner.
One of my favorite bits of dialogue had Lee asking a long-suffering waiter "Do you have any recommendations on where we should go?" and the exasperated waiter replies "Yes, but we're not allowed to talk that way to the guests!" It took a full second for the meaning to register, and then I burst out laughing.
One of the things I always appreciate in a movie is a straightforward romance which progresses forward without angst and misunderstandings. Jane is determined in her pursuit of the handsome Lee -- there's a moment when she confesses all the girls at the factory swoon over him, and MacMurray momentarily has a very funny, flattered expression -- and she's also up front with him almost immediately about the way she maneuvered herself into the job. Later on when Lee's fiancee Alice (Hillary Brooke), who's also his boss's daughter, shows up in D.C. and asks if Jane means anything to him, Lee gives a refreshingly honest answer.
Roland Young, Anne Revere, and Edward Arnold all give rib-tickling performances; watching Arnold, playing a businessman, transform himself into the "former butler to the Duke of Belgravia" is quite funny. Young's reactions to Lee's constant requests for days off and Revere's self-importance concerning her military work are also amusing.
The supporting cast includes Marie McDonald, Isabel Randolph, Porter Hall, and Norma Varden, who plays a dinner party guest and curiously is missing from the IMDb cast list. I need to put this in again and see if I can spot Yvonne DeCarlo as a secretary.
The movie was directed by Sidney Lanfield. It runs 83 minutes.
This is another Paramount movie which isn't out on video or DVD, and like the majority of Paramount films of the '30s and '40s, it's very difficult to obtain. (My great thanks to Carrie for making it possible for me to enjoy it!) As I wrote in my review of last weekend's film HOLD BACK THE DAWN (1941), "It's very wrong that hundreds of Paramount films continue to be so hard to access. They're an essential part of American cinema history and our cultural heritage, and they deserve to be widely seen."